Outlander just came back after a long hiatus, with an episode that focuses on the viewpoint of Jamie, the show's 18th century romantic interest. We hear his musings on what a wife is for, and what wife should do. It's... not as good as the show would like us to believe. Spoilers...
It would be a great narrative choice, in "The Reckoning," to move from Claire's point of view, where we've been comfortably ensconced for the first eight episodes, to Jamie's — if Jamie's thoughts had been actually interesting.
In my guide to Outlander, I said that Jamie is the least complex character on this show, and I stand by that assertion. He's gotten himself into the middle of complicated issues in "The Reckoning" but he's still, as an actual character, pretty simple in his actions. Which makes what happens in this episode even harder to watch. And it also makes listening to his stilted voiceover unbearable.
The midseason finale ended with the sudden appearance of Jamie in the window of the place where Black Jack was on his upteenth assault attempt on Claire. For the midseason premiere, we jump back a ways to see how exactly Jamie ended up there.
Jamie doesn't hesitate to go after Claire — who, pretty awesomely, seems less interested in her own safety than in Jamie just shooting Black Jack in the face. Black Jack is still as horrible as ever, slobberingly asking if he can see his handiwork on Jamie's back. Jamie doesn't show him, pulls a double-bluff with the unloaded pistol, and slams Black Jack's head into the table to knock him out. He and Claire make their escape, aided by a timely explosion.
Reunited with the rest of the traveling MacKenzies, things take a less wonderful turn. Let's be very clear: No one acquits themselves well in this episode. No one. In fact, this episode marks a deliberate turn towards making the characters less sympathetic — this includes events that are in the book, but which seem different from Jamie's point of view.
This begins with a fight between Claire and Jamie, where Jamie wants Claire to apologize for daring to get captured.
Claire reminds Jamie that she wanted to go with him, and she wouldn't have been caught if he'd agreed. Jamie saying that if she'd done was she was told is... maybe literally correct, but very much still blaming the victim. Claire's assertion that she's not a possession is, to modern ears, very, very correct. Jamie's position, meanwhile, is fairly consistent with his time period — but we've spent the first half of this season being made to like him and see Jamie as less prone to the conventions of his time. Including actions like taking the beating for Laoghaire, and helping the boy escape his brutal punishment. So his position here comes as an unpleasant surprise.
And then that leads to this scene, where Claire tries to thank them for saving her and being roundly shut out:
And that, in turn, leads to Jamie punishing Claire for her disobedience, by hitting her with a belt.
I will give this scene this much: Claire fights back, and fights back hard. And this scene isn't portrayed in a positive way — it's meant to be upsetting, and to be a sign that things between them aren't rosy. Jamie, for all as progressive as he's been presented, is still a product of his time. That didn't make it any more pleasant to watch.
Especially as he says, "I said I was going to punish you. I didn’t say I wasn’t going to enjoy it" — and the men below joke about it. That... makes no one look good. That line from Jamie makes him look awful, and meanwhile, Claire's vocally upset the whole time. She calls him a sadist right before he says that line, and his response does nothing to eliminate that coloration of the scene.
I get that the show felt it had to include this scene. It's a huge moment in the book, after all. But it's hard to move past. And the show blew through this moment in the middle of an episode that already had a bunch of other things going on — as though it was kind of embarrassed about it all, and just wanted to get this bit over and done with, and get back to the politics and the (happy) romance.
The next morning, everyone else's jocularity at Jamie "putting Claire in her place" underscores how normal this was for them, and how unhappy Claire is.
Back at Castle Leoch, the other plot takes a bad turn. Colum knows what Ned, Jamie, and Dougal were up to with their fundraising. And the rescue of Claire at Fort William. He's not okay with any of it.
With the benefit of history, we know full well that the Jacobite cause is not one that's going to lead to anything good for these characters. Dougal claiming that he's doing it for Scotland — and that it's what he's sworn an oath to, and not Colum — is particularly ironic.
(Let's not forget the barb Dougal throws out, about being the one to secure the family line. That's a harsh blow against his brother.)
Jamie's the one to tell Colum that he should just let Dougal have his money and his cause, that his quiet rabble-rousing does no one harm, since nothing's going to come of it. There are no Jacobite armies and no open rebellion. Peace between the brothers and the clan is more important. Fair enough, for now. And, with what he knows, Jamie's actually fairly savvy to propose this to Colum, who eventually does as Jamie suggests. But that's the tragedy of this kind of period setting for the viewer — knowing that disaster is coming.
Meanwhile, Laoghaire is heartbroken that Jamie's married. Heartbroken — but not deterred from wanting Jamie to deflower her:
Jamie declines her offer. He made a vow to Claire. And, no matter how bad things are between them, he intends to honor them.
He also comes to a decision about all that: He makes a pledge to Claire — similar to the one he made to Colum — that he won't ever raise a hand to her again. And Claire, for her part, says that she should want to leave him, but doesn't. They have another steamy bout of lovemaking — complete with a BDSM moment where Claire, in the middle of it all, taking Jamie's sword and pressing it to his throat. Telling him that if he ever does that again, she'll cut his heart out. That's settled, I guess.
Some assorted musings delving into the meat of this episode: Claire finds a poppet in her and Jamie's room. Jamie notes that it means them harm. It's Laoghaire, right? We all know she's not done pursuing Jamie. The other thing was Jamie asking Claire what a "sadist" was, and what "fucking" meant. Which she answers was what they just did. Funny, but not what she meant when she called him a "fucking bastard."
Spending this episode with Jamie instead of Claire was a good way to flip the script for the show's midseason premiere. Of course, it meant that Sam Heughan was saddled with the still-painfully-on-point voiceover. The notion that he thought everything was dealt with, but that the gulf in his marriage was still there, for example, was pretty evident without him flat-out telling us. As is the idea that Jamie was naive about what marriage meant — the argument with Claire at the beginning of the episode covered that pretty well. No voiceover necessary!
And, given that Claire was the one who had things to forgive, I wondered about her forgiveness at the end a bit. I kind of wanted more from her perspective on that. I wanted more time dealing with this, period. The only real barrier to Jamie and Claire's romance has been, to this point, that Claire's still torn about what this means for her other marriage to Frank. It hasn't been anything to do with Jamie himself — she likes him!
This whole event, which the press and cast keep calling a "spanking" — but he uses his belt, and it's more than the word "spanking" implies — should hint that there's a vast gulf of experiences and cultures between the two of them that they have to negotiate. But Jamie takes thirty minutes or so to reflect — while also solving Colum an Dougal's problems — and then we get a (sort of) happily ever after.
We're left with the implication that Jamie's bound to do bad things, because "that's how he was raised" But he'll realize they were wrong, apologize, and Claire will take him back. Rinse, repeat. That casts a pall over this whole romance. Which... we'll likely just move past.
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